Tag Archives: Marathon Valley

Opportunity takes a spin

In attempting several times this past week to climb the steepest ever tried by a rover on Mars and failing, Opportunity has moved on to a new less challenging target.

The rover’s tilt hit 32 degrees on March 10 while Opportunity was making its closest approach to an intended target near the crest of “Knudsen Ridge.”

Engineers anticipated that Opportunity’s six aluminum wheels would slip quite a bit during the uphill push, so they commanded many more wheel rotations than would usually be needed to travel the intended distance. Results from the drive were received in the next relayed radio report from the rover: The wheels did turn enough to have carried the rover about 66 feet (20 meters) if there had been no slippage, but slippage was so great the vehicle progressed only about 3.5 inches (9 centimeters). This was the third attempt to reach the target and came up a few inches short.

The rover team reached a tough decision to skip that target and move on.

Having operated thirteen years longer than originally planned, the science and engineering team that operates the Mars rover Opportunity are increasingly willing to try more risky things. For example, the valley the rover is in, called Marathon Valley, is actually an east-west slice through the rim of 14-mile-wide Endeavour Crater. Traveling into that slice towards the crater’s interior is a far riskier trip than ever dreamed of by Opportunity’s designs more than a decade ago.

Opportunity marathons on

As the rover prepares for winter, scientists hope to continue Opportunity’s survey of Marathon Valley, an east-west cut through the western rim of Endeavour Crater.

Overall the rover`s condition appears better than should be expected, considering it is now more than a decade past its expected expiration date and has been having memory problems for the past year.

Opportunity enters Marathon Valley

Opportunity at the mouth of Marathon Valley

For the John Batchelor Show tonight John and I taped this afternoon a two-segment interview with geologist Bill Farrand, who is part of the science team for Opportunity. The image above shows Opportunity’s recent travels as well as its next target. (Click on the image for the full resolution image.) Assuming the rover’s memory problems don’t get worse and Congress decides to reverse the decision of the Obama administration to end all funding for Opportunity, the scientists hope to take the rover east into Marathon Valley, a very distinct break in the rim of Endeavour Crater.

Whether they will continue east into the crater itself Bill could not say. Some scientists have been pushing for that eventual goal, while others would prefer to do more research along the rim.

What is interesting about Marathon Valley is that it takes the rover deep into the crater’s rim. Previously Opportunity has been limited to exploring the rim’s outer edges, since the rim itself is generally too rugged for the rover to traverse.